“While yesterday’s orange may have been the new black. . . today I’m making it the color of hope.”
Are you missing the villainous heroics of the Superior Spider-Man? Already mourning the impending cancellation of Superior Foes? Well Roderick Kingsley, the first and greatest Hobgoblin, has got the comic for you! And it gets better: the first step back to comic-contentment is free! Just click on the link, and find out how Roddy can improve your life in just 21 short pages!
PENCILLER & COLORIST: Javier Rodriguez
INKER: Alvaro Lopez
LETTERING: VC’s Clayton Cowles
COVER by Javier Rodriguez
EDITOR: Ellie Pyle
SENIOR EDITOR: Nick Lowe
BACKSTORY: If you last saw Roderick Kingsley in Superior Spider-Man #26, here’s a brief summary of what he’s been up to between that issue and this one. During the events of AXIS #2, Magneto flees the battle the Avengers and X-Men are waging with the supremely powerful Red Onslaught and his twin Repulsor-powered Sentinels in Genosha. Magneto #11 reveals that, after a brief period of despair, Magneto is inspired to gather together several of the world’s greatest super villains, including our boy, whom he takes back to Genosha to battle the Red Onslaught. In AXIS #3, Magneto’s hunch pays off, as it turns out that Schmidt’s Sentinels are ill-equipped to battle super villains as they were tailor-made from the remnants of Tony Stark’s Initiative files to neutralize superheroes. The villains win the day, destroying the Sentinels, incapacitating the Red Skull, and rescuing the heroes. After this adventure, it seems the once-villainous Hobgoblin has had a change of heart. So what will Kingsley do next? . . .
STORY: The story opens on John Myers, a down-on-his-luck recent college graduate, finding an ad from the one and only Roderick Kingsley in the job listings section of the paper. When he shows up at the given address, a back-alley warehouse with two Hobgoblins for doormen, he thinks he’s there to receive one of Kingsley’s patented super-villain franchises. But Myers is in for a shock as Roddy reprimands him through a teleprompter and he’s beaten by the doormen. Back at his broadcast location, a dressing room with a hipster-publicist clad in another Hobgoblin suit, Roddy reflects on the recent changes in his life, thinking how advantageous and lucrative it will be for him to license out superhero identities instead of villainous ones. He then goes back on video and introduces the ad-answerers to his three-phase program for self-improvement. After giving his introductory sales pitch to the Phase One crowd via video chat, he steps out of his dressing room and into an auditorium crowded with Great Value superheroes, his Phase Three crowd, “rewarding” them for their persistence through his program with a personal appearance (chillingly referred to as his “Ned Talks” self-help lectures). Ever the opportunist, Kingsley works the crowd like the pro he is by giving sales pitches for his new book (Hobnobbin’ with Roderick Kingsley), a DVD series (Goblin Up the Profits), and tons of other licensed Hobgoblin-brand merchandise. As Roddy relishes in the profits and excitement after his presentation, meanwhile, over in Brooklyn, Phil Urich, now calling himself the Goblin King, is stewing in his hideout about the increasing number of Hobgoblins seen across the city performing good deeds. After he decapitates a faux-Hobby his henchmen found directing traffic, Goblin King monologues about how futile trying to be a good Goblin is and how doomed Kingsley will be when Lily Hollister, the Goblin-powered Menace, finds her way back to Phil. Apparently, while Phil and Lily were in Norman’s Goblin Army, they made a pact that if either got captured, the other would free him/her. So after Lily was arrested at the end of Superior Spider-Man, Phil blew up her squad car in an attempt to rescue her. However, he failed to take into account the fact that she had been cured of the Goblin Serum, so Lily (in classic Goblin fashion) wanders the streets of New York in an aimless haze of amnesia, eventually winding up on the doorstep of. . . Roderick Kingsley! To be continued. . .
THOUGHTS: I thoroughly enjoyed this. Let me qualify that by saying that I am a huge Roderick Kingsley fan. Amazing Spider-Man #238 was the first comic I ever read and the original Hobgoblin has remained my personal favorite of Spidey’s rogues gallery ever since. Dare I say my love for Roddy’s cunning, opportunistic Goblin approaches that of JR for the first and greatest Green Goblin, or the devotion of George Berryman to the awesomeness that is Stegron, the Dinosaur-Man? . . . No. Such claims ought not be made by lowly souls such as mine. But, man, I love me some Roderick Kingsley. However, I can be objective enough to say that while this was a really good comic, it was not without its shortcomings.
In the interest of being balanced, let me get my criticisms out of the way. Aside from some minor nitpicks (Roddy is a known felon: how would he get a Job Listings ad in the paper? How did he manage to license out a bargain-bin Anti-Venom?), I will say that this book was a bit continuity-heavy for a new reader who’s picking it up. You may ask, “Why would someone who isn’t reading AXIS or Spider–Man buy a Hobgoblin comic?” While I see your point, I would point to Javier Rodriguez’s gorgeous cover. Halloween’s just around the corner and that festively colored, sharply rendered, evil visage of the Hobgoblin may be a tipping point for the wallets of the more casual comic reader. So, for that demographic, coming into this issue, they may feel a little behind, but that goes away pretty quickly as Roderick’s opening monologue weaves some character and recent plot-line exposition in with his arrogance-tinged sales pitch (to coin a term, the “continuity fanboy whore” in me loved the reference to his fashion background). Another qualm I have is that Roddy never actually suits up in this issue. There are tons of Hobgoblin proxies, but the original “sane” goblin himself never does more than throw a razor bat during a staged fight in his superhero self-help seminar. Hopefully we’ll get to see Roddy don his orange-and-blues and take the ole’ glider for a spin next issue.
On to the comments! This comic is a very fine mixture of Superior Spider-Man and Superior Foes. Roderick is much like Otto in that he going about being a hero in his own villainous manner, but whereas Otto approached it from a megalomaniacal villainous mastermind angle, with his contingency plans and minions and menacing island base, Roddy approaches heroism like the opportunistic, cutthroat business man he is. (He’s like the evil Stephen Covey of superheroes!) There is this great exchange on page 5 between Roddy and his publicist: “Being a hero. Working for the good of mankind. It actually opened my eyes to something I hadn’t seen in a while.” “Your heart?” “No. An untapped market.” Roderick Kingsley remains the same corrupt, cool-headedly ruthless Goblin we know and love, despite his newfound heroic bent. He’s just milking a different cow (try and get THAT metaphor out of you head!). Case in point, the part of his “Phase 3” presentation where he does the whole, ‘Here’s the evil Hobgoblin. Here’s the good Hobgoblin. Know what the difference is? Not a freakin thing!’ This book also has some pretty funny gags worthy of Spencer and Lieber’s Foes book, like the fist bump between the two Hobgoblin doormen, some slightly DC-ish characters in Roddy’s Phase 3 crowd, the different slogans and jingles on Roddy’s merchandise (“Orange you glad I’m no longer bad?”), and the ripping off of some classic comic book covers during his “heroic” exploits (“The most treacherous thing he’s done in the past thirty days involved copyright infringement”). And while Roddy remains very much the crook he always was (even before Georgie told about the Goblin-cache), much like Fred Myers, I still find myself kind of rooting for him as he suckers the lost souls who wander into his seminars out of their money. Thankfully, Spencer and Lieber have given us an example of how villain-centric books can work, and while AXIS: Hobgoblin doesn’t quite match Foes’ level of hilarity or page-for-page gags, Shinick and Rodriguez are definitely taking this book in the right direction. And before I move on to another point, I’d like to point out a bit of potential meta-commentary this book may provoke. This Hobgoblin book’s presence on the stands is kind of “tapping the market” left by the absence of Superior Spidey and Foes. Too much? Maybe, but it’s a thought.
Anyway, regarding Kingsley’s new heroic bent, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the much-publicized “Inversion” that AXIS #3 brought about was not some psychic trick by the Red Onslaught, or some other character. I appreciate that Bunn and Remender took the harder road and attempted to bring about this change from the individual characters’ standpoints. While this was more or less plausible for some of the other featured villains, I think it works well for Kingsley for the same reasons I mentioned above. (To see how Carnage turned out, be sure to check out next week’s AXIS: Carnage review, right here on the Crawlspace!)
When it comes to the book’s antagonist, I admit to being a bit hesitant to be excited. Phil Urich, now operating under the moniker “Goblin King,” has always worked better for me as a good guy, rather than a bad guy. And we’re definitely getting a (thankfully) watered down version of Slott’s Evil Phil here, not DeFalco’s “Uncle Phil”: he’s bad, and he’s totally OK with it. The fact that he’s especially miffed at Kingsley for monetizing the “Good Goblin” thing is a nice touch, even if it might taste a bit exposition-y for some. But what makes me hopeful is his ineptitude at villainous masterminding. He neglects to factor in Lily’s cured-state when he attempts to rescue her from the squad car. And thinking that he’s got it all figured out, thinking that Lily is going to find her way back to him and that will bring down Kingsley, he looks like a total goof when she ends up stumbling onto Roddy’s doorstep instead! I’m hoping that when these two eventually come to blows, Kingsley will just own Phil, since the latter never struck me as being an especially competent Goblin.
And just as an aside, I thought it was cool how the opening sequence, with “John Myers” wandering lost in the streets as the Hobgoblin’s silhouette grins in the city sky, was mirrored in the concluding sequence, with Lily and the Goblin King taking Myers and Hobgoblin’s places respectively. It gave this chapter a nice sense of visual continuity and closure.
And speaking of ghosts of Goblins-Past, I thought the whole “Ned Talks: An elite and underground series of lectures, named after my good friend Ned Leeds, the first successful person to ever take part in the Roderick Kingsley program” spiel was a very chilling reference. If you needed any indication that Roderick has not completely become a good guy, here it is folks. He feels absolutely no remorse for the cognitive rape and eventual murder of this once good man and classic Spider-Man character. He has taken the slow destruction of Ned Leeds’ life, not to mention the torment it caused Peter, Jonah, Betty, Flash, and others, and spinned it into an identity-franchising pyramid scheme. I also noted the name-dropping of Arnold “Lefty” Donovan, the first person Kingsley used the Winkler device on to masquerade as the Hobgoblin. I wonder if this was just Shinick giving a nod to Stern’s original Hobgoblin arc, or if there might be something in the works here. Donovan was a henchmen of Kingsley’s who was given a derivation of Mendel Stromm’s formula (ASM #244-ish), back when Kingsley originally uncovered Norman Osborn’s notes and wanted to tweak the recipe and test it on someone so it wouldn’t drive him insane the way it did Norman (even though Norman was already well along the way to insanity before the Goblin juice pushed him over the edge). After Kingsley saw all he needed to, he detonated Donovan’s glider and caused him to go crashing into a building, which collapsed on top of him (if memory serves). However, since Donovan had true Goblin-serum flowing through his veins, such an attack would not kill him! A similar thing happened to Norman in PPSM #75 and he’s still alive and kicking! I wouldn’t hold my breath or anything, but I’m kind of hoping that Shinick picked this up too and is planning to touch on it later in the mini. We’ll just have to wait and see.
GRADE: B+ (really good – slightly continuity-heavy at times, and Roddy doesn’t actually suit up, but it’s a fun story about a great character and it’s really nice to look at!)